Today, the one and only George Michael died.
Today is Christmas.
Today, I did not want this to happen.
Was I the biggest George Michael fan? No. Did I have to Wikipedia search his life to make sure I wasn’t stirring the political pot by posting a heartbroken Facebook status about him? Yes. I’m a millennial, of course I did that.
The point is, though, it didn’t matter that I wasn’t the biggest fan. It doesn’t really matter with any sort of celebrity death how big of a “fan” you were. If you have a distinct or personal memory or connection with that figure, it’ll affect you in your own way.
The first time I heard “Freedom! ’90” was in a car on the way back from church after a church choir practice. For some reason, my sister was in the car, but she wasn’t old enough to be at that particular practice. Anyway, point is that she was with us. My dad had picked me up and for some reason, he really was in the mood for some George Michael.
My sister and I were speechless. This was the greatest song that we had ever heard in our entire lives. It’s six and a half minutes of soul-pop bliss. Its vocals came from that really gutsy part of your diaphragm – the best kind of singing if you’re brave enough to sing karaoke. Not to mention when I finally watched the music video, I had never thought the phrase, “I’m astounded, but I’m not surprised” before. God and that piano. Everything about that song makes you want to dance.
We made our dad replay that song until we got home.
When I entered high school, I joined the radio club with a few friends over the years. That song would be sprinkled across dozens of playlists, hoping that the three listeners who listened to our station would enjoy a blast from the past.
I liked listening to this song best when I was getting ready for a test. I liked listening to this song best if I had been rejected by (one of many) crushes that I had throughout high school (I was the opposite of a teenage heartthrob during my adolescent years). I liked listening to this song when I was done with finals. I liked listening to this song if I was in a bad mood. I liked listening to this song when I felt a little hopeless.
I liked listening to this song when I wasn’t really happy with who was and how people viewed me. I’m not saying that in the sense that I didn’t like who I was. I’m saying that in high school I didn’t really know how to portray the person that I wanted to be. When I was with my family and close friends, I was bouncing off the walls, opinionated, annoying, loud, interesting, dramatic, dynamic.
To everyone else… I was a misfit. I was someone that was brushed off. I was on the sidelines. I was boring.
I listened to this song thinking that one day, and hopefully one day soon, I could break out of my shell and be myself in front of everyone.
“There’s someone else I got to be.”
Sometimes not everyone is who they seem.
I went to college with this mantra and, despite some of the sloppy drunk nights that I had, it worked. I might have been annoying or restless or loud or silly, but at least people finally knew me. People finally knew what was in my heart.
The song popped up on my Spotify playlists every now and then. The best, the best, feeling that I ever had while I was listening to this song was after I finished my Stats final during my sophomore year of college. I always had a struggling relationship with math classes and once I was done with this one, I never had to take another math class again.
I was so happy when I finished that final that I jammed the headphone buds into my ears and as I blasted the song, I danced in the parking lot outside of the class. I was oblivious to other people. I didn’t care who saw me dance like an idiot. They had no knowledge of the freedom I felt. I was done.
In college I also started dating around a little more, and I think maybe like 2% of the experiences that I had were actually positive. Even if I was the one that was being rejected in that scenario, I normally knew it was coming. I would play the song and relief poured through me. “A blessing,” I’d say. “The fact that I’m not with him is a God damn blessing.”
I branched out with my George Michael knowledge in college as well, listening to Faith and Ladies & Gentlemen and some Wham! albums (it made the jokes in Arrested Development funnier, for sure).
But I always had “Freedom! ’90” as a support song. It was the song that I’d listen to once something or someone had passed through my life. I was done with that era. And no matter what, I could find a reason to celebrate the future with this song.
Maybe that’s why George Michael’s death is such a blow right now. In the wake of the election, it’s hard to find those moments of soul-lifting relief that “Freedom! ’90” gives. We’re all looking for it, but we haven’t found it yet.
Maybe for George, after all that he’s gone through, he can feel free, wherever he is. Maybe we can take advice from “Freedom! ’90” in these scary times. Maybe we can find our own freedom too.
“All we have to do now is take these lies and make them true somehow.
All we have to see is that I don’t belong to you and you don’t belong to me.”